As a sophomore business student at UMass Amherst I was introduced to the 4 Ps of Marketing: Product, Price, Place and Promotion. Each represents a necessary component of the marketing mix.
On this first full week of classes at Autograph University let’s talk about the 4 Ps of Graphing: Preparation, Patience, Persistence and Passion.
“By failing to prepare you are preparing to fail.”
— Benjamin Franklin
I can’t tell you how often I’ve been out graphing and missed an opportunity because I didn’t take two minutes that morning to think through what lay ahead of me that day. Preparation will improve the quality of your collection. It will empower you to take advantage of opportunities and reduce time wasted waiting for them to appear.
Having the right items in your bag is critical but it’s just one of many questions that you should run through before heading out in the field:
- Who are the celebrities I’m targeting? Who else might I run into?
- What are their signing habits?
- How would I prioritize the signers?
- When and where will I be engaging them? Hotel? Ballpark? Movie set?
- What items do I have? Am I carrying protective supplies to keep them in good condition?
- What writing instruments do I need? Are they broken in properly?
- What is my timeline?
- What are my transportation options?
- Is the memory card in my camera empty? Is the battery charged?
- What am I carrying everything in?
- What is the weather forecast?
What am I missing here? Leave a comment and help me improve this checklist.
Tip: A great resource I use to stay educated on signing habits is Sportsgraphing.com which contains a well-trafficked message board where collectors share their experiences in the field. A little time on the site will yield valuable insight that will inform your preparation.
“Good things come to those who wait.”
-Guinness (among others)
I once told Jimmy Gobble—then a pitcher on the Kansas City Royals—graphing is a lot like fishing. You head out to a spot and wait, hoping to catch the big one. You shoot the shit with your buddies to pass the time. Your line could tug in 15 minutes or six hours. Or you could be shutout, pack up and head home with a cooler full of nothing. I’ve experienced both ends of that spectrum and everywhere in between.
The question of risk versus reward is a perpetual battle inside the mind of a grapher. Each time I head out into the field I’m putting an extremely valuable asset on the line—time. Ninety-nine percent of graphing is waiting. But this isn’t your “I’m fifteen minutes early for my haircut” kind of waiting when you can bury your head in a book or tap away at your iPhone to pass the time. My head is perpetually on a swivel, scanning faces, body shapes, taxis and town cars. Often I feel like Jack Bauer looking for a suspect. Rest assured, I’ve never put in twenty-four hours to get an autograph…I’ve done eight though.
Let me tell you a story. It’s a sad story but I think it demonstrates my point about patience.
On June 12, 2010 my buddies Garett and Lewando and I were camped outside the Intercontinental Boston awaiting Charles Barkley and Bill Walton who were staying at the hotel during the NBA Finals. We also had a new guy with us—a friend of Garett’s who had tagged along in hopes of meeting Sir Charles. Long story short (I’ll tell the long story another time), new guy decides at 11:45pm to head home because it’s getting late. Well, at midnight a black Lincoln Navigator rolls up and out steps Chuck, lubed up from the Eagles concert at Gillette. In retrospect, would this guy have traded 15 minutes of shut eye for a chance to meet an NBA legend? You’re damn right he would. What’s more? He broke one of the most important Autograph University Rules: Never leave before a more experienced grapher. Why? He knows something you don’t.
Dave Attell once said, “It’s always ten minutes after you leave when all the fun shows up.” Stick it out and you won’t miss out.
“If at first you don’t succeed, graph, graph again.”
There can be many obstacles that come between you and a treasured autograph: security guards, misinformation, greedy graphers (i.e. collectors and dealers attempting to get multiple items signed at once), bad timing, roped-off VIP areas, crowds, the celebrity’s current mood, the weather, time. Nearly all of these are beyond your control and sometimes it’s just not meant to be. Half my collection is a result of finally getting someone after multiples unsuccessful attempts. I still haven’t graphed Gilbert Arenas—one of the best signers in the NBA—and I’ve gone six times for the Wizards over the years. The stars just sometimes don’t align.
Even if your preparation is on point and you’ve cleared the rest of the day to put the time in, often you’re faced with a challenge that requires persistence and creative thinking. Few encounters are like organized signings where all you have to do is purchase an item and wait in line for your turn. When you’re out on the street anything can happen.
When Tom Hanks passed through the revolving door at the Four Seasons and told us he didn’t have time, I took off running down Boylston Street toward his destination, the Boston Public Library, hoping to beat the Escalade carrying him to the John Adams screening. (I did.) When Charles Barkley’s handler said no pictures I followed Chuck to the elevator bank in the Intercontinental and asked him in the sweetest voice I could muster if he had the time to take a quick picture with me. (He did.) After being denied by Josh Beckett one-on-one at his charity bowling tournament in 2007—and after subsequent denials over the past three years—I finally graphed and got a picture with him this spring.
If a celeb denies you or something else gets in your way, think of how you can overcome the obstacle without being a jerk or doing anything illegal. In a lot of cases, there’s nothing you can do. Don’t get angry or discouraged, just get back out there.
“All you need is love.”
Graphing is hard work. And like any hobby, if you don’t love experiencing the journey and are in it just for the outcome, it’s not going to be enjoyable or a productive use of time. I can’t stick to a gym routine. I can’t get out of bed at 5am on a frigid February morning and run four miles. Actually, I can’t do that on any morning. But I think I could graph every day. I love it. Here are nine reasons why (in no particular order):
- The adrenaline rush I get anticipating that once-in-a-lifetime moment when my world collides with the celebrity’s and not knowing whether I will walk away elated or pissed.
- Observing the characters that are the autograph community.
- I always have great cocktail party fodder.
- The opportunity to see the off-camera side of celebrity—both good and bad.
- Hearing other collectors’ war stories.
- The feeling I get after seeing a kid waiting to get a graph with a pen and piece of notebook paper and I slip him a Sharpie and an extra photo.
- Everything I display in my man cave has a story.
- Autographs are unique, like original art. No one has a collection of graphs or experiences like mine.
- Sharing a common interest with two of my buddies, Garett and Lewando.
Why do you collect autographs? Leave a comment and tell us.